Author: Kirstine

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Challenges

2019-01-30 | Babelfish | 3 Comments

Unable to upload podcast

For the first time while travelling I faced some challenges – challenges not related to transport, accommodation, food or money. Not at all – instead I was not able to get online – I have never experienced an internet connection performing this poorly. And this in a large hotel in the capitol of Malawi.

For several days I tried to upload new episodes of my podcast. Again, and again the upload failed after a while. It has been so frustrating not being able to do anything about it. When talking to the reception they promised to investigate it, unfortunately they never gave me any feedback – I had to ask them again and again. I never got any explanation, not even a ‘we are sorry for the inconvenience’, nothing. I’ve stayed at much cheaper guest houses where the service was 10 times better.

To make matters worse I discovered the subscription feature on my blog had stopped working. It was not possible for people to sign up. And I was not even able to log in and check up on it – the pages wouldn’t load due to the poor internet connection. I think I could have punched someone at this point, several times.

In the end I gave up and went to bed.

And the next day I asked for help on LinkedIn – not that anyone could fix the performance issues, but if someone could look at the issues with the subscription feature, I would be very happy. A former colleague from CGI Maria Ana from Sweden helped me and will help me in the future – I got myself a wingwoman 😊

The subscription feature is working again – or it’s partly working. If you have already tried to sign up without any success it is not possible to sign up again (we are working on solving the issue).

If you are one of the unlucky ones… please send me an email and I will register you manually – sorry for all the inconvenience.

This blog post should have been about something completely different related to Africa & humanists, but I have been too frustrated to write anything that made sense.

I know this is first world problems – people living here are facing much more serious problems than this. They have power outages, floods, droughts, lack of clean water, climate changes, a growing population they cannot feed.

I can leave – I can go home, turn on the electricity, get clean water out of the tab and be sure my internet connection is fast.

I’ll be back… with new podcasts and blog posts when the connection is good… I’ll be back

With more than 120 tribes (& same number of languages) no tribe has majority in Tanzania, the melting pot of migrations. The last tribe migrated to this country less than 200 years ago. Tanzania is even more diverse and complex than the other countries in East Africa – migrations from all over Africa, from India, from Europe, from almost everywhere.

Like the rest of East Africa, Tanzanians are very religious, conservative. The population is equally divided between Christianity, Islam and traditional religions, which means no religion has majority. This makes Tanzania different from the other countries – they had to find a way to live together, co-exist, no matter tribe or religion. They have succeeded in many ways, even though there can be tensions (as an example Zanzibar which is predominantly Muslim would like to be independent). Tanzania is peaceful and you don’t have to worry about security.

Like in the other countries it is difficult to be a non-believer in Tanzania. Family and friends might consider you a devil-worshipper if you openly come out as a non-believer. Like in Kenya Tanzania has a secular constitution including the human rights declaration which protects non-believers even though they might face discrimination in every day life.

There are a small group of freethinkers who try to reach out and find likeminded people in order to build a community. The internet and social media have helped a lot, since almost everybody has access to information online these days. So besides being enthusiastic the freethinkers are optimistic and know things will change slowly, but they will change. Many more non-believers will come out – because they are out there, they just think they are alone. Through the social media they will discover they are not alone in the world, and they will find a place to belong, a community.

Tanzania is also the biggest country – it is 22 times the size of Denmark, 22 (!). It’s huge – with the speed limit being 80 km/hour (down to 50 km/ hour many places) you’ll never manage to visit the whole country. It takes forever to drive from a to b. The traffic police are everywhere, you would be ruined before managing to drive from Arusha to Dar es Salaam.

For a Dane it is difficult to comprehend why they haven’t built highways like in Denmark where the whole country is covered in highways. Our highways have a speed limit of 130 km/ hour which makes it easy to get from one end of our small country to the other in no time. In addition, there is no railways of importance in Tanzania (again in contradiction to Denmark), which means everything must be transported on the same roads – goods, containers, people, schoolkids, cows, goats etc.

Halfway through my journey I have almost adjusted to the African way – which means you must be patient, don’t rush, take you time greeting people in a proper way, a lot of handshakes and talking. It seems like I have adjusted to the hot African weather as well – just arrived in Malawi, it’s 23 degrees & I’m freezing (!).

Halfway through my journey I have visited 4 countries in East Africa – the other half will be spend visiting 4 countries in Southern Africa.

My visit to the cradle of humankind – the Serengeti – made an impact. I think it is an amazing place. I would like to go back some day, and spend at least one week in the Serengeti, sleeping in tents among the wild animals, spending hours looking for them, spending hours staring at them. It’s beautiful, overwhelming, majestic – pictures can never show how it feels to be there.

Goodbye Tanzania & East Africa – hopefully I’ll see you again on the Serengeti – Hakuna Matata

Some facts:

Tanzania (Denmark)

Population:   60 mio. (5.8 mio.)

Area:   945.000 km2 (43.000 km2)

Density: 64/km2 (133/km2)

Life expectancy: 63 years (80 years)

Freedom of opinion & expression

2019-01-23 | Kenya | 1 Comment

The above article 19 is from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It gives all of us the right to say what we think and participate in the public debate.

Last week when I was in Nairobi visiting Harrison Mumia, the president of the Atheists in Kenya, he got fired from his job due to some political tweets. Harrison is probably the most well-known atheist in Kenya, participating in a lot of debates, tweeting and commenting on different subjects.

It is not easy being a non-believer in the very religious East African countries. Most people think you are a devil worshipper or illuminati if you publicly say you don’t believe in one or more gods. People will think you have no morals or ethics, because in their opinion only god (or gods) can tell right from wrong.

Some non-believers get shunned from their family, most loose friends and many know it will affect their chances of getting jobs and establishing a carrier if they openly declare their non-belief. When the humanists in Uganda spoke up for LGBT rights their office was attacked. They even went to Kato’s house (president of HALEA) and burned his car.

And now this – an atheist fired for participating in the public debate. Even in Denmark we have heard stories from civil servants fearing it will affect their job if they express their opinion. We have also seen stories about politicians requiring people to be fired because they disagreed with their opinion.

And these cases in my country Denmark where we are so proud of exercising the freedom of speech – to the extent that some people feel the need to humiliate others instead of keeping a civilised tone in any debate. Even in Denmark the freedom of expression is under pressure if our opinion is in opposition to the powerful people in our country.

A few years ago, the atheists in Kenya registered as an organisation. Some religious groups got upset and successfully pressured the government to revoke the approval. But the step was in violation of Kenya’s constitution, which meant the government lost the following court case and the Atheists in Kenya is now a registered organisation.

Harrison will off course sue his employer for wrongful termination and violation of his right to speak freely. I hope human rights organisations will follow the case closely. We need to protect our right to participate in politics and express our opinions.

Cradle of humankind

2019-01-21 | Tanzania | No Comments

Ngorongoro Crater

I visited the Ngorongoro crater yesterday not far from the place where scientist have found evidence of continuous presence of human for the last 2 million years – 2 million years! Here where two tectonic plates met and formed the rift valley many millions of years ago is the cradle of humankind. This is where hominoids were born and later developed into homo sapiens.

Watching the huge number of elephants, wilder beasts, zebras, antelopes on the plain grassing while lions and hyenas are watching ready to hunt. The Masai are still living in this area, integrated with the wild life – risking the life of their cattle and themselves. It makes you wonder how life might looked here a million years ago, how did humans survive.

It is appealing to believe that life has been unchanged here for thousands and thousands of years. But this is not the case. The Masai migrated here from Sudan only a few hundred years ago. The plains and the savanna are not untouched by human hand – herders have been living on this land for a long time, their cattle have shaped the landscape, integrated with the wild life.

I live in a country with a history of humans being of only a few thousand years. As Danes we are normally proud of our height, light skin and blue eyes. In reality the first humans in the Nordics – the hunter-gatherers – were short, had dark skin and grey eyes.

The genes for the light skin and blue eyes (a genetic mistake) came from Spain some thousand years ago and migrated to the North. Then 5.000 years ago, the Yamnaya’s from the northern part of Caucasus migrated to the Nordics – they were tall and had light skin. The Scandinavian look then developed – due to migrants, even though we off course all are migrants from the rift valley.

Homo sapiens one of the most successful animals on earth, unless we succeed in destroying the planet making it impossible for us to live here. We have migrated to all corners of the planet where it is possible to live (and in some cases not possible to live).

Climate changes is also visible here – the wet and dry seasons are getting out of balance. It’s raining during the dry season, and not raining in the wet season.

This area – where we were born – will be one of the first area where it will be impossible for humans to live. Humans will be forced to migrate – again – to find a place to survive. Unfortunately, we would have destroyed all the magnificent animals living here… so beautiful to watch.

Goodbye Kenya – Hakuna matata

2019-01-18 | Babelfish, Kenya | 1 Comment

Karen Blixen

Looking out on the scenery through the shuttle bus window driving from Nairobi to Arusha in Tanzania I’m thinking about my week in Kenya. The horrible attack in Nairobi the other day with 21 lost lives, reminds me of how fragile life is. The people and the fantastic animals remind me of how beautiful life can be in this country. A country with a complicated history, influenced by the whole world.

On one hand Kenya feels very peaceful – the security levels are the same as in the other countries. When you get used to armed security everywhere, the thorough security checks when you enter a mall, a hotel, a bank etc. you stop wondering. Al-Shabab continues to make life unsecure for everybody here. It’s difficult to understand how they cope with the fear continuing living their lives.

On the shuttle bus a group of passengers with unmistakable Indian decent reminds me of the melting pot of different cultures that is Kenya today with more than 42 tribes. Arabs, Europeans, Indians and as the latest addition I see Chinese signs all over the country showing how much China invest in infrastructure – not just here but all over Africa.

The landscape passes by – the flat land surrounding Nairobi turns into green hills and later mountains. I see Masai with their red clothes looking after their cattle and donkeys. It is the first time I have seen donkeys on this trip. The sky is so incredible high with the flat savanna and the green hills and mountains in the background. It makes you feel tiny and insignificant.

It is understandable why Karen Blixen fell in love with this country. I visited her museum with Harrison from the atheist organisation. Fun fact: he had never heard about her, so I taught the Kenyan a bit about Kenyan history. It was amazing to visit her farm, learning more about her life here and how she influenced Kenyan tourism.

It is difficult to be a non-believer in this country. In contradiction to Denmark Kenya has a secular constitution. Legally there is no discrimination, but in reality, the country is very religious, which means everyday life is influenced by religion.

People are very friendly and curious. As a Dane you would never say hi, shake hands and talk to a stranger in the street. After a few days you realize Kenyans mean it, they just want to talk – while you thought they wanted to trick you and get money out of you.

It’s been a week with many experiences, many emotions – highs and lows.

I will end this blog post with some of the highs – I met Harrison, the nicest guy who open his home to me. He is the best-known atheist in the media in Kenya, fighting for equal rights for non-believers. I saw a black rhino for the first time ever, it was amazing, big and a bit scary. And then there was the beautiful lioness, she passed our car not more than half a meter from my face – I’ll never get tired of watching them in the wild.

Have a nice weekend and as they say in Swahili – Hakuna matata

P.S. A new episode of my podcast Babelfish has been released today – check it out

Some facts:

Kenya (Denmark)

Population:  52 mio. (5.8 mio.)

Area:  580.000 km2 (43.000 km2)

Density: 89/km2 (133/km2) Life expectancy:  64 years (80 years)

It’s alive !!!

2019-01-16 | Babelfish, Uganda | No Comments

Finally – the podcast has gone live. The first 3 episodes has been published.

Kato Mukasa

In the first episode I talk to Kato Mukasa who has several roles within the humanist community. Internationally Kato is member of the IHEU Board. He is also involved in coordinating activities in Africa and Uganda. In Uganda Kato is Legal Director for HALEA Uganda, and manager of the Pearl Vocational Training College.

Wasswa Peter Mukasa

In the second episode I talk to Wasswa Peter Mukasa who, besides being Kato’s brother, also is deeply involved in HALEA Uganda.

Viola Namyalo

In the third episode I talk to Viola Namyalo, a young humanist, involved in HALEA Uganda. Just after I left Uganda Viola was elected Chair of the African Working Group of Young Humanists International (YHI). YHI is the youth section of IHEU.


You’ll find podcast in your favourite podcast app: iTunes, Spotify or Stitcher. Or you go to the Babelfish page in the above menu.

I expect to release 1 or 2 episodes per week. Bear with me – English is my second language.

Enjoy.

Precious lives

2019-01-15 | Kenya | 4 Comments

Lioness

Today while I met this beautiful creature lying on the side of the road a terrorist group attacked a hotel in Nairobi with bombs and gunfire. While we were waiting to see if the lioness would succeed and hunting down one of the many antelopes, people were dying in Nairobi.

It isn’t the first time in recent years terrorist has made attacks in Kenya. Al-Shabab (a militant Somali terror group) has unfortunately succeeded many times. I think everybody remembers the Westgate Shopping Mall attack in 2013 which lasted several days.

At that time my friend Peter lived in Nairobi – Sofie and I wanted to visit, go on a holiday and hopefully see a lot of animals. We never made it, partly due to political unrest but also due to the risk of terrorist attacks. It simply wasn’t safe enough. Now Peter lives in Denmark and I am a tourist in Kenya – Al-Shabab continues to spread fear and taking precious lives.

Being far away from the attack we didn’t notice anything – not until I got a message from my insurance company and the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I recommend everybody to sign up on ‘rejseklar’, the ministry will keep you posted on any issues in the country you are travelling in (for Danes only). The twitter exploded and I decided to contact my relatives and friends telling them I was ok.

On our way home from the national park Nairobi looked the same, no changes, the same melting pot of people, boda bodas, taxies, busses, cars – the same smells and sounds. Live continues in the capitol.

The lioness didn’t succeed in her attempt to catch an antelope – the antelopes fled, and the lioness wandered off, she passed our car, peed on a bush and continued down the road. Live continues in the national park.

Goodbye Rwanda

2019-01-12 | Rwanda | 2 Comments

Moto’s with passangers

I must admit facing Rwanda’s past hit me hard. I remember when Sofie and I visited the killing fields in Phnom Penh in Cambodia years ago, the sadness stayed with us for days. I have felt the same this week, the sadness has stayed with me.

Maybe it has cast a shadow on my visit because Rwanda is a nice and friendly place. The capitol Kigali is very different from the chaotic streets of Kampala in Uganda. There is less traffic and the main streets are lined with trees and grass. The buses are bigger and more modern. The boda boda’s are here but are called moto’s – as a passenger it is mandatory to wear a helmet and they respect the traffic lights (in contradiction to Kampala).

Rwanda is called the land of 1.000 hills, which is true – no matter in which direction you look you’ll see green hills. Which also means you walk up and down, up and down, up and down all the time. It was only when visiting the Akegara National Park that I saw flat land.

It’s a beautiful country and they are trying had to improve and change not forgetting their past in the process. Good improvements have been made and foreign investments have returned. Tourists have also discovered the country with its diverse experiences.

But – and there is a but – I have not gotten a decent cup of coffee since I arrived in East Africa. Either it is instant coffee, and you mix it yourself, or it is the weakest coffee you would ever taste – it looks like tea. I mean the grow the stuff and export it all over the world, but they have no idea how to make good coffee. So, I switched to African tea, which is basically milk boiled with tea – much the same as chai.

And on the positive side I’ve gotten good at using moto’s – without fearing for my life and clinging to much on to the driver.

Tomorrow I will fly to Nairobi in Kenya.

Some facts (I include Uganda since I forgot it in my earlier post about leaving Uganda):

Rwanda (Uganda – Denmark)

  • Population: 12.6 mio. (45 mio.  – 5.8 mio.)
  • Area: 26.000 km2 (241.000 km2 – 43.000 km2)
  • Density: 475/km2 (183/km2 – 133/km2)
  • Life expectancy: 68 years (58 years – 80 years)

Big little things

2019-01-10 | Rwanda | 3 Comments

It’s when you lose access to everyday necessities you realize how privileged you are. In Denmark we have a functioning infrastructure – everybody has access to clean drinking water in their own home, just turn on the tap. We don’t risk electricity outages; our roads don’t get washed away due to rain. We don’t have earthquakes, volcano eruptions, monsoon rain, hurricanes or other natural disasters.

Imagine if you didn’t have a car and you had to collect clean water 1 kilometre from your home every day – you would have to walk or bike. Imagine if sometimes there was no electricity – if you had a refrigerator or freezer the food would go bad. Imagine if the rain washed away the road to your town – it had to be cleared before anyone could leave.

And what about money? – we are so used to use our credit cards, it takes 2 seconds to pay our groceries and we are out the door. Here almost no shops and only a few hotels accept credit cards. You need cash to pay for everything.

I have spent a lot of time looking for an ATM that would accept my credit cards. One day I had to transfer some money – it took forever. At the MoneyGram agent (like Western Union) I couldn’t use my credit card to pay for the transfer, and their ATM didn’t accept my credit card, so I had to find another bank to get the cash to pay for the transfer.

Another example – I had to pay deposit for my hotel in cash. For some reason none of the 8 (yes 8!) ATMs I visited accepted my visa or master card. In the end my mom (thanks mom) sent me money through Western Union. It took less than 10 minutes to get the cash.

Imagine the consequences for your everyday life and work – this is reality in some other countries. In Denmark everything would be more difficult, everything little thing would take so much longer.

I’m so grateful to live in a country were the vital infrastructure is in place. We need to appreciate the big little things that makes our daily lives so much easier.

Always remember, never forget

2019-01-07 | Rwanda | 6 Comments

Wall of names of some of those killed during the genocide

It was friends, neighbours, family who run amok and within 100 days killed 1.000.000 people in 1994 in Rwanda – at that time I was pregnant with Sofie.

Babies, toddlers, children, youngsters, men and women where tortured, raped, molested and killed in the most horrendous ways – slaughtered by machetes, shot, drowned in latrines. It’s hard to believe that the nice and friendly streets of Kigali where I am today was filled with blood and bodies 25 years ago.

Today I visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre where 250.000 people was buried in a mass grave. It has been an emotional day, me crying several times looking at videos with survivors’ testimonials on how they watched their family members get killed, looking at the remains of those killed, seeing a superman bed sheet, one shoe from a child, the countless pictures of victims.

I get tears in my eyes writing this – a special part of the exhibition shows pictures of babies and kids who were killed with notes regarding each of them mentioning their favourite food, favourite sport, favourite song but also their age and how they died.

Devastating. It is difficult to grasp how human beings can turn into monsters who will do horrible things to their friends and families. They lived peacefully together, were married into each other’s families, were godparents to each other’s children.

History shows that genocides doesn’t happen overnight even though it might look like it. It wasn’t the case during the second world war, it wasn’t the case in Rwanda or the Balkans. It begins with an increasing division, an increase in dehumanising other groups (whether it is ethnicity, religion, politics etc.).

Like in Germany and on the Balkans, it was the people in power who planned the genocide. It was carefully planned in order to wipe out the Tutsis. Women were raped by HIV infected men on purpose to destroy future generations. Like the survivors from the genocide the kids from these rapes are traumatised.

Rwanda has done a lot to overcome the collective trauma – rebuilding the country, prosecuted those who planned and those who committed the killings, supporting the survivors. It will take many years, maybe even generations before some of the wounds have healed.

We must never forget how genocides happen – we must never forget that ordinary people can turn into monsters when they are manipulated and feel threatened. Dehumanising other people just because they look different or think different is the first step towards genocide.

I sometimes fear that we are going down this road again – the dehumanisation of those who are slightly different than ourselves. The talk about ‘them and us’ creating distance between – creating the illusion of ‘them’ not being human.

I do not know how we can stop this from ever happening again – but we must insist on trying, keeping our humanity.